Who's That Woman? Terri White Tells Us in Her Act at 54 Below
She doesn't live in New York City anymore, but the town that never sleeps is deep in her heart.
Drama Desk Award nominee Terri White is no longer an NYC resident. Instead, this veteran of Broadway's Follies, Finian's Rainbow, Chicago, and Barnum has moved to California, trading the bright lights (and bitter winters) for a warmer, more subdued lifestyle. But that doesn't mean she's boycotting the Big Apple. Terri White is back in town for a few gigs; most notably a July 31 concert at 54 Below, an intimate space she hasn't even seen yet. TheaterMania talked with White about her preparing for her autobiographical show, hanging with the legendary dames of Follies, and why today's New York City doesn't come close to resembling the one she dearly misses.
I love your work, especially Follies.
Wasn't that a great show? It was a fun show to do and great people to work with.
"Fun" is an interesting word to use for such a dark show.
We had a lot of pros on stage and got along famously.
How long did it take for the ladies to learn "Who's That Woman?"
That was a lot of work! [laughs] When we were at the Kennedy Center, we had six weeks. Every day we had four hours a day. It was tough. But [choreographer ] Warren [Carlyle] worked us and drilled us until it was in our bodies.
Tell me about your upcoming show at 54 Below.
Blues to Broadway. I think it's one of my better shows that I've put on over the years. It gives a little bit of history of me as a child, because I've been in the entertainment business since as long as I can remember. My parents were entertainers; my family members were musicians. Then, I touch on the shows I've been in. And there's also a little surprise in it that I'm not going to tell you. That surprises everyone — including me. You get to know me outside of being on Broadway.
How did this come about?
It's just getting people to know that I can put a show on. As soon as I moved out of the city, that's when I get all the work. But it's worked out very well. I just finished doing a workshop of a show called Throw Backs, written by Tom Rickman, who wrote Coal Miner's Daughter. I'm working on another show that I've been working on for eight years, called Holding On, which I'll be doing. I figured I might as well cram it into one week. We drove from California; we didn't fly here. It's a long drive, but the country is absolutely gorgeous.
So California is home now? Do you like living there?
I'm a native Californian, but northern. I didn't think I was going to like it at all. But when we went out there with Follies, I fell in love with it. It was a great vibe and I said "let's try it." I got my first commercial while I was out there. I haven't left New York; it's only five days of driving. I felt as though, one: I couldn't take another winter; and two: I just wanted to try something new.
Do you miss New York?
When I first left New York about five years ago, I realized I was on the inside looking out and I felt trapped. Then, when I moved away and came back to do Finian's Rainbow, I realized I was on the outside looking in and it's not the New York that I used to know...When I was in the shows, after the shows you're so high from the energy and the applause that it takes a while to come down. I miss seeing my old cronies going to Ted Hook's [theater district watering hole, Backstage] and getting around the piano and singing songs together. That doesn't exist anymore. Now, when everyone finishes a show, they go home. Nobody goes out.
I'd like to imagine you and Bernadette and Elaine and Jan sitting around a piano singing showtunes.
At the Kennedy Center, because we were out of town, nobody wanted to go to the hotel room, so there was a lot of socializing, getting to know each other outside the theater. Our conductor got behind the piano and the woman who played Solange, Régine, sang "La Vie En Rose," and you could hear a pin drop. She loved me doing "When You're Good to Mama." When we're in rehearsal time, you're so wound up trying to learn lines and steps and songs, so when the show finally comes around, you have the chance to have a breather. We used to go over to Régine's, and Elaine and Bernadette would join us…But that was out of town.
What roles do you still have in mind that you'd like to play?
I have a few. Momma Rose in Gypsy. Vera Charles in Mame. Those are the two main ones that would be a lot of fun. I'd love to do a new piece. That's why I work on these workshops and stick with them for so long. Unfortunately, you see more revivals on Broadway than originals. They're afraid to take a chance and [instead] go with what's safe? But what's safe anymore? The price of tickets has gone so crazy. We were just talking the other night; when I was doing Barnum, the orchestra seat was $45. And then 42nd Street raised their prices to $80, and that was it.
I'd say at 54 Below, those prices are worth it. Have you seen that space?
This is my first time. The last time I was in 54, it was when it was a club.
I think you're going to love it. It's a great place to play.
I'm so looking forward to it, I really am. I think you'll enjoy this show. It's a rollercoaster of emotions, but it's worth it. It's a lot of fun.